Originally posted on shfwire.com for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.
If I had been following the health-care story from my office Thursday at 10 a.m., I would have been tracking Twitter, watching CNN and reloading the New York Times home page non-stop until I found out real updates. I would have shouted the headlines I found to everyone around me. And, of course, I would have then tried to figure out which headline had the right information.
Instead, I was in a room without my cell phone, laptop or any electronic device, and I wasn’t allowed to talk. No, I was not in a prison cell – I was inside the Supreme Court, listening to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. give the decision of the majority of justices.
It was an incredibly historic experience to hear Roberts say, “The mandate is upheld,” after explaining in great detail how the court had come to that decision.
I didn’t leave the room until almost 11 a.m., after Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had given their opinions in the case, so I didn’t get to break the news. But I definitely understood the decision far more than if I had been given a 193-page stack of papers to decipher instantaneously, which the press outside the courtroom had to do.
I’ll be honest: I felt giddy with self-importance, with my reserved seat in the press section of the courtroom. (My ego deflated slightly after I realized my seat was behind a very large and opaque pillar – probably reserved for the lowliest of reporters.)
But during the hour of the decision, my giddiness was replaced with a sense of reverence and awe. Those nine justices, those nine people in big black robes, are entrusted with the power to interpret the most sacred writings of our secular country – the Constitution – with which all other law must comply. Everything government does, everything you do, has to be OK with them. The court is like the Pope of the United States, with a little less input from God.
It’s important to note, however, that they don’t decide if the government should pass a certain law. Instead, they decide if the government can, and if so, why. And they have to think very lofty thoughts about very lofty goals, such as maintaining a balance of power so the country doesn’t get abused by power-hungry politicians and end up on the road to doom.
Roberts summed it up with this slightly snarky comment, which I think was his way of saying he didn’t want this to go on his political record:
“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
Say what you will politically about the health-care decision, but you can’t read the decision of the justices and not be blown away by their intelligence and their sense of responsibility for keeping the country healthy. Or, if you don’t feel like reading the 193-page decision, head on over to the Supreme Court the next time you are in D.C. and experience them in action yourself. The court sits again the first Monday in October.